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The Substantial Bias from Ignoring General Equilibrium Effects in Estimating Excess Burden, and a Practical Solution

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  • Lawrence H. Goulder
  • Roberton C. Williams III

Abstract

We show that under typical conditions the simple "excess-burden triangle" formula substantially underestimates the excess burden of commodity taxes, in some cases by a factor of 10 or more. This formula performs poorly because it ignores general equilibrium interactionsmost important, interactions between the taxed commodity and the labor market. Many prior studies have shown that general equilibrium interactions affect excess burden but have not appreciated the bias associated with ignoring these interactions or the quantitative importance of this bias. We derive an implementable alternative to the simple formula. This alternative formula captures interactions that the simple formula omits; as a result it is both unbiased and usually more accurate.

Suggested Citation

  • Lawrence H. Goulder & Roberton C. Williams III, 2003. "The Substantial Bias from Ignoring General Equilibrium Effects in Estimating Excess Burden, and a Practical Solution," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 111(4), pages 898-927, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jpolec:v:111:y:2003:i:4:p:898-927
    DOI: 10.1086/375378
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Parry, Ian W. H. & Williams, Roberton III & Goulder, Lawrence H., 1999. "When Can Carbon Abatement Policies Increase Welfare? The Fundamental Role of Distorted Factor Markets," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 37(1), pages 52-84, January.
    2. Williams III, Roberton C., 1999. "Revisiting the cost of protectionism:: The role of tax distortions in the labor market," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 47(2), pages 429-447, April.
    3. Lawrence H. Goulder & Roberton C. Williams III, 1999. "The Usual Excess-Burden Approximation Usually Doesn't Come Close," NBER Working Papers 7034, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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